Friday, February 26, 2010

Updating classic children's books with new media?

Of course, when I write new media, the reality is that much of what is considered new media rapidly dates from the moment it's included in that category. I was talking to a student about how, just reading Meg Cabot's Princess Diaries, you could follow the quick uptake of new forms of social networking, technology and the various vocabularies that go with these. From writing notes in class in book one, before long, characters are texting, for instance. Come to think of it, texting is a shame. I still have some of the notes to friends I wrote in class during Geography. I'm saving them for their children's high school years.

So, it's not so surprising that people are looking at how to update children's classics in order to incorporate new media, as a piece on Jezebel indicates.

Such updating is always a little 'iffy'. There is a charm to vintage and retro and if you read Little Women or Anne of Greengables or the Betsy-Tacy books, it's very easy to recognise parallels to trends experienced in today's high schools. Is there something comforting in the notion that bullying, peer pressure, trying to be popular, trying to have just the right accessories, trying to be the right size, have the right hair... I could go on... is nothing new?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Latest Case Against Rowling

You might have heard that Rowling is being sued again over alleged plagiarism. The case itself looks, from what I've read so far, incredibly shaky and, via Boing Boing, there's an interesting post from Making Light about it. Teresa observes: "People who aren’t accustomed to having a lot of ideas of their own have a very poor grasp of the odds that others might independently come up with the same ideas."

There's been a lot of posting about films and books that have similar themes and events. This is, however, quite normal. (Neil Gaiman wrote an articulate post about this and other related issues.) I understand why some readers feel frustrated by similarities to other texts or what they consider to be derivative work, but I don't feel it myself. I do not weary of multiple tellings of Cinderella and I enjoy a story that is aware of the storytelling occurring around it. Those sly references to other tales entertain me. It means the author knows their stories. Different authors playing with the same general ideas, that provides the vitality of storytelling.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Who knew I'd blog about boxing?

I'm only incidentally blogging about boxing, though. The Guardian has a list of Markus Zusak's top ten boxing books. I've written on, and have been teaching, his novel, The Book Thief. It's one of the most amazing books about - though it only features a little boxing.

Today I've been embracing the frustration of finding fairy tales that are collected with different titles. It's one of the hiccups of dealing with translations and the truth of the matter is that I don't speak Italian... apart from the spattering of words required to order coffee and buy museum tickets. It would be very handy to speak Italian right now.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Who Says You Can't Enjoy Shakespeare At Two?

This is a wonderful video of Brian Cox teaching a two year old that famous soliloquy (via Boing Boing). I love the gestures.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Research Days Can Be Heck


I'm slogging through reading for the next couple of days before tackling writing on magic haute couture once more.

Yes, the things I do for the sake of my work.

Incidentally, I love this quote from Steven Moffat on the subject of Doctor Who: "I suppose my view of it has always been more of a dark fairytale. It’s very much a fairytale, Doctor Who. I don’t think that’s a new perception, it’s quite literally a fairytale, it’s a way of telling our children to be wary of the world, that there are dangerous things out there." (I'm not entirely sure, but I believe the quote comes from here originally.) Coupled with the latest news that Neil Gaiman is writing for Doctor Who at long last, I feel vindicated that Doctor Who is entirely within my research parameters.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Genre as Decoder Ring

This blog post on genre as a reader's toolbox is causing me to reshuffle my thoughts on genre.

It certainly rang true of my experience learning to read comics and graphic novels. Indeed, now that I'm learning to read comics, I find it interesting to speak to people who don't understand the genre and how they consequently miss the various aspects that make it tick.

The link to Jo Walton's piece is worth following, too. She comments: "When I read literary fiction, I take the story as real on the surface first, and worry about metaphors and representation later, if at all. It’s possible that I may not be getting as much as I can from literary fiction by this method, in the same way that the people who want the zombies and dragons to be metaphorical aren’t getting as much as they could." I think there's a great deal more complexity here to be unraveled, but broadly speaking, this is something I feel can happen. I'm finding it my research on fairy tale. Those who analyse the fairy tales in light of metaphoric meaning sometimes miss the obvious... that there is a perfectly valid reason why the princess throws the frog against the wall and he turns into a handsome prince. It has nothing to do with representations of class or gender. It has everything to do with 'a frog wants to sleep with me... eeck!'

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

On being a student in the digital age

I just read an excellent blog post by Henry Jenkins. He is responding to a recent documentary, Digital Nation. His discussion is balanced and reasoned and speaks to my own experience as I engage with the digital side of English Literature.

A few things rang particularly true to me.

Jenkins notes: "I think the student who described himself as writing 'killer paragraphs' was getting at something that is easy to ridicule or dismiss, yet may be a significant shift in what constitutes good writing. The writing of MIT students has to do with the production of densely written, carefully argued, powerfully presented, meaningful chunks of information." Often I talk to students who are frustrated, because their theses are exploding into random chunks of analysis and theory. They speak of clouds of post-it notes, cork boards with colourful string, reams of butcher paper with circles and lines around the dot points. They produce brilliant, succinct paragraphs and then have to glue them altogether. It's not an easy task. Others stall as they try to approach 'a chapter,' struggling to think in terms of longer pieces of writing. I, myself, have always written in 'bits'. Most students are familiar with my patchwork analogy. I don't think we're necessarily seeing a shift in the writing itself, but how people evaluate and think about writing. The digital environment suits those, like myself, who think in terms of 'killer paragraphs.' It allows us to evolve our skills. It provides us with other audiences, who perceive good writing in different ways to those linked to the traditional essay or thesis.

In fact, sometimes looking at those bound bricks of the past, you wonder if the thesis itself will ever change. Could we free that new, fresh, experimental thinking from the work of the binders and a couple of examiners? When you look at the old typewriter-written thesis, imagining the hours of cursing and tapping and dinging and liquid paper, and then look at the theses emerging with their blue lines marking long lost hyperlinks, you begin to wonder if the bound form isn't becoming just a bit too restrictive.

Jenkins also notes: "I certainly encountered situations where most of the students had a lap top open in my class. In some cases, they were performing quite mundane tasks, such as compiling code, which required very little of their attention and would be mind-numbing if performed with their full attention. They are multitasking in the same way that a faculty colleague would knit during faculty meetings: the actions were routinized, most of the time they didn't require much thought, but they absorbed a certain amount of nervous energy." This particularly made me smile. I knit sometimes in meetings or in classes. It is much like doodling, though I have a sock at the end to show for it. It helps me to focus on the intellectual discussion. Women for eons have always occupied their hands, the better to tell stories, exchange gossip, listen to literature. We all multitask - whatever our gender. And I often find the students who are producing the most intricate, amazing doodles are the students who likewise make insightful comments in class and produce excellent essays.

Jenkins says: "Unlike some adults I know who want to pit the computer against the book, they have no trouble giving both their proper respect, using the computer when it seems meaningful to them, reading books when it seems the best choice." With the introduction of the iPad, this discussion will become ever more heated. Yet I think Jenkins makes a good point. There are some books and situations where iPads and Kindles etc will be the best option - useful, for instance, for word searches, scanning and for carrying around multiple novels or books on theory. There are other situations where the paper and ink (I almost write physical, but the iPad is just as physical as my copy of Harry Potter) versions will be preferable. Indeed, I think and hope that the paper and ink versions will continue to become more interesting, tactile and aesthetically pleasing. We'll still want them too.

All in all, it's an excellent post. Do read it if you get a chance.